The year 2020 has been a challenging one for the sports world for several reasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an unprecedented year of sports, including derailed seasons and adjusted formats. We also lost a number of iconic sports figures, none of whom ever will be forgotten by fans and media members alike.
The sports world seemingly stood still when Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash in late January. Tributes continue to pour out for the Los Angeles Lakers legend as we approach the one-year mark of his death.
“The Black Mamba” will be remembered as one of the greatest competitors the NBA has ever seen. Bryant helped lead the Lakers to five NBA championships, winning Finals MVP honors twice. The 18-time All-Star will be posthumously inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the spring.
Sayers is one of the best running backs the NFL ever has seen. The Chicago Bears great, who died in September following a multi-year battle with dementia, was named a first-team All-Pro in each of his first five professional seasons. The “Kansas Comet” was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 when he only was 34 years old. He still remains the youngest person to ever receive football’s highest individual honor.
In addition to his prowess on the football field, Sayers also will be remembered for his relationship with former Bears teammate Brian Piccolo. The friendship between Sayers and Piccolo, who battled embryonal cell carcinoma for multiple years before his death in 1970, was the subject of the television movie “Brian’s Song.”
If you’re putting together a list of the greatest coaches, in any sport, Shula probably is near the top. He guided the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1972 and 1973, which still serve as the franchise’s only title triumphs.
That 1972 campaign, of course, lives in football lore. Those Dolphins still are the only team in NFL history to put together an undefeated season. It’s a part of a resume for Shula that also includes the records for most regular-season wins and total wins by an NFL head coach. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Shula died in early May after dealing with heart issues over the latter years of his life. He was 90 years old.
The sports world lost a global legend when Maradona died at age 60 in late November after suffering a heart attack in his home. “El Pibe de Oro” reached great heights in both international and club play, highlighted by guiding Argentina to a World Cup triumph in 1986. Maradona also won the Golden Ball — given to the tournament’s best player — that year.
Maradona was transcendent in the club space by twice setting new world records for transfer fee. He led Barcelona to a Copa del Rey title in 1983 and twice paced Napoli to Serie A championships. His legend was honored by being named a joint winner of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century Award.
Gibson was a force to be reckoned with on the mound over his 17 Major League Baseball seasons in St. Louis. He was named to nine National League All-Star teams and took home NL Cy Young honors in both 1968 and 1970.
The right-hander tended to be at his best when the lights were brightest. Gibson was named World Series MVP for this efforts in the Cardinals’ Fall Classic victories in both 1964 and 1967. He was on the mound for the final out of the seventh game of both of those series, becoming the first pitcher to accomplish that feat. He also punched out 18 batters in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.
Gibson, who died in early October following a bout with pancreatic cancer, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1981.
Other noteworthy members of the sports world who died in 2020 include Lou Brock, John Thompson, Tom Seaver, Paul Hornung, Wes Unseld, Joe Morgan, Jerry Sloan and Al Kaline.